The life is precious but life without livelihood is a death knell and people may die a mental death (and not the actual death) more from economic inactivity than the disastrous disease. The perennial and pervasive closure of courts have ushered havoc on economic activities of the practicing advocates (signiﬁcant and primary stakeholders) and have otherwise rendered litigants out of bounds to justice system, except in extremely urgent ma†ers during suspended functioning of the courts. The same lies at interface with COVID‐19 pandemic and associated risk(s) that any single instance of detection of COVID‐19 infected person during session at the premises of any District Court shall compel complete lockdown and quarantine of all, however complete shutdown is not the solution and regulation in phased manner towards normalcy has to be operationalized without undue delay, uniformly across all districts in order to prevent expected and consequent huge pendency of ma†ers in coming times.
1. Access to Justice is a sovereign service transacting beyond traditional court rooms and without any boundary whatsoever.
2. Seamless uninterrupted internet and network connectivity along with Technological Equipment to access the same is available to every primary and also secondary stakeholder in justice delivery system.
3. Stakeholders are trained/receptive (basic as against proﬁciency) in/to use and access to digital plaVorms.
4. Economy is intrinsically intertwined with the justice delivery system of the state.
5. Pendency and non‐disposal of matters to non‐curable levels is a catalyst to lawlessness, whether direct or otherwise.
Section A : New Batch of Learned Judicial Oﬃcers
1. Every learned Trainee Judicial Oﬃcer to prepare one room at his or residence, equipped with amenities (as against investment in ﬁxtures) like computer equipment, scanners, printers, video conferencing apparatus, tables, chairs, upholstery and cupboards/Amirahs etc. so as to create a temporary judicial oﬃce/home court‐room.
2. Matters be allowed to be heard from home court‐room with provision of minimal staﬀ, as may be assigned by the learned Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and/or Senior Civil Judge of the concerned district. The learned Trainee Oﬃcers may be given miscellaneous work pending/ﬁled in courts of Ld. MMs viz., applications for bail (for certain oﬀences , as may be prescribed) , jamatalashi, superdari, calling status reports, change of surety, release of documents, supplying of documents etc. Such types of applications which are ﬁled in considerable numbers in a particular hon'ble court, not only consume time but results in logs and consequent pendency, if not attended strategically. Besides the same, they may be also entrusted to deal with cases u/s 138 N.I. Act, ﬁled by Financial Institutions involving petty amounts, and in which the accused is residing beyond the territory of Delhi as most of such cases are found to be later compromised. However, if any of such matters are put to trial, they may be referred to hon'ble regular courts. As regard civil cases, certain applications may be referred to them by the concerned Ld. Senior Civil Judge for day to day disposal.
3. The Camp Allowance of ` 1,25,000/‐ admissible to a judicial oﬃcer once in ﬁve years should be made available immediately.
4. The allowance of ` 1,10,000/‐ admissible to a judicial oﬃcer once in four years, but initially only aGer the completion of period of probation, be made available immediately.
Reasons : The Trainee Judicial Oﬃcers of the present era are supposedly more equipped with contemporary digital processes, without any additional training and shall be able to conduct judicial business through electronic measures easily. The design and development of home court room is the need of the hour, not only to discharge progressive work of Night/Duty Magistrates but also to extend access to justice beyond traditional court rooms during regular as well as disastrous times like present, both in realm of criminal and civil matters.
Section B : Filing and Listing of Fresh Ma†ers and Record Maintenance
1. The mode of ﬁling be restricted to electronic‐ﬁling only.
2. Special Kiosks be created in utility blocks of each district courts or other places as identiﬁed, with provision of scanners to enable ﬁlings in paper mode on each working day only between 10 a.m. to 12 p.m./noon.
3. Formulae based colour coded excel sheets be created for the purposes of records (Basic Sample is appended herewith)
4. Case Information Sheets to have mandatory disclosures of mobile numbers having working WhatsApp application and email addresses of the parties and the learned counsel(s) representing the matter.
5. Undertaking needs to be furnished by learned counsel(s) in soG copy along with ﬁling that he or she has not been ordered to remain in quarantine by an order or had previously been in such quarantine/isolation. Further, no litigants nor any learned‐ counsel, who is resident of or otherwise has or had been in zones declared as Containment Zones be allowed to appear in any manner except through video‐conferencing.
Reasons : The judicial process should be understood as essential services and relevance and attention to fresh matters cannot be undermined in any manner any further. The ﬁling process is needed to be electronic so as to prevent personal interface and only to cater to learned counsel(s) who are not conversant with such processes are given liberty to access such special kiosks to get paper ﬁlings converted in e‐copies for further processing. Record maintenance as per required ﬁelds should be made mandatory with utmost importance without which, the entire exercise shall be rendered nugatory. The undertaking should be sought as to make information readily available for the courts, if in case personal appearance is specially required.
Section C : Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Set‐Up
1. Centralized Call Centre and District Court Based Helpline Numbers to be set‐up immediately for helping learned advocates and litigants to access correct and complete information. Such centres and helpline numbers should be manned by those oﬃcials who themselves possess complete information about Standard Operating Procedures and Oﬃce Orders issued. The helpline Number of DLSAs/DSLSA which is 24X7 operational, may also be put to use aGer working hours.
2. Creation, Working and Records of dedicated correct email addresses of the Filing Counters, Administrative Oﬃcers, learned Judicial Oﬃcers, Readers, learned Prosecution Oﬃcers, Police Oﬃcials and others may be done and be made available with landline and mobile numbers on the oﬃcial websites, and be regularly updated with 'Date of such last update'.
3. Formulae based colour coded excel sheets be created and provided to each court complexes for record maintenance.
4. Information Material (ICE) for all stakeholders be made available in all electronic forms.
5. Provision of high speed internet and network connectivity in all courts with complete CCTV surveillance on movements.
6. Digital Signatures for all staﬀ oﬃcials must be made available.
Reasons : Information is always priceless, provided it is correct and made available timely. Therefore, whether or not uniform practices are adopted across district courts, the same must be available through helplines. Communications inter‐se stakeholders be routed through emails and records be maintained by feeding accurate data in formulae based excel sheets which should be color coded so as to facilitate easy transfer later during period of normalcy. Information material in terms of videos and brochures/ documents be made available on the websites and most signiﬁcantly the network and internet connectivity must be available at maximum speed possible for uninterrupted use.
Section D : Cause Lists, Hearings, Orders and measures relating thereto
1. Cause Lists need to be segregated between pre‐lunch and post lunch sessions and matters be placed accordingly.
2. Cause Lists should provide all essential details of the hon'ble Court, Name of the learned Judicial Oﬃcer, Room No. and Floor, Name and Contact Details of Coordinating Staﬀ Oﬃcial.
3. The practice of determining urgent and non‐urgent matters be disbanded for fresh matters and be taken up for hearing.
4. Hearing in old cases which have been scheduled for a particular day, be decided on parameters of urgency/non‐urgency, ripeness till speciﬁc stages, category and type of case etc., 2 weeks before the scheduled date and relevant orders/ communications be made to the parties and/or learned counsel(s) regarding provision of new dates accordingly.
5. Order sheets to compulsorily provide mobile numbers and email addresses of the learned counsel(s) and copy of the orders to be sent each day through all electronic means to the learned counsel(s) and/or parties, besides being uploaded on e‐courts portal.
6. The pedestal placed for each side and also the table underlying that should be placed at considerable distance. (Only applicable if in‐person presence is called for, by the hon'ble court recording special reasons)
7. The seating pattern w.r.t. chairs for the litigants and learned counsel(s) be reduced and/or strategically arranged so as to provide movement and appropriate social distancing. (Only applicable if in‐person presence is called for…..)
8. One Orderly with proper gears be made to stand at the door of each court room to regulate entry and exit of persons, if any.
9. The display board aﬃxed outside each court room should be mandatorily functional without fail, whether or not the matters are taken up seriatum.
10. The practice of printing soG‐copies of pleadings and placing before the learned Judicial Oﬃcer be abated immediately and all learned judicial oﬃcers must read and study the matters in soG copy on their computer screens only.
11. Order sheets must only be digitally signed and no other form be made acceptable.
12. Only one learned counsel per party be allowed and in case of designated learned senior counsel, assistance of only one learned junior counsel be allowed, subject to such other orders as may be made by the court.
13. No hearings be done in chambers, even if there are personal appearances ordered.
14. Parties and/or learned counsel(s) belonging to places outside Delhi including NCR regions be given automatic exemptions from appearance and matters be heard only through video‐conferencing.
15. All hearings be conducted via video‐conferencing, unless otherwise ordered.
16. In deserving matters, written submissions and arguments be insisted and where favourable reliefs are made out from the records itself, personal hearings should be avoided at all, even through video conferencing.
17. In Criminal Matters, the hon'ble Regular Courts should mainly focus on recording of evidences in the Court rooms. All the other work i.e. Receipt of charge sheets, taking cognizance, issuance of processes, calling reports from any agency, clariﬁcations from IO/SHO/DCP, orders for supplying of copies etc. should be done electronically. Presence of IO/SHO which is oGen required by Courts for clariﬁcations on many aspects may be achieved through VC only. Presence of accused persons who are in JC should be ensured only through VC. Arguments on the point of charge be insisted upon only by way of written submissions except for the reasons for which personal hearing may be required. Evidences should be well spread during the day and recorded in specially designed court rooms which are properly sanitized at regular intervals. AGer evidence is over copy of SA, should be sent to the accused electronically and answer to the same be obtained through the same mode. The witness who is residing at far of places may be given option to testify from the nearby local court complexes through VC, under the supervision of a specially designated learned Nodal Judicial Oﬃcer (MM/JMIC). Reasons for not adopting to admission/denial of documents must be duly mentioned. Testimonies of formal witnesses should compulsorily be taken on aﬃdavits and they be called only for their cross‐examinations, only if desired by Ld. Defence Counsel. In civil matters, evidences may be got recorded through Local commissioners and speciﬁc building/space for this particular purpose may be taken. Final arguments in person, as far as possible should be done away with, unless required by court or insisted by Ld. Defence counsel, keeping in view any technical issue involved in the mater which requires personal hearing. Parties should ﬁle written submissions , citations as per rules prescribed.
Reasons : The points are self‐explanatory.
Section E : Issuance and Service of Process (Summons, Warrants and Notices)
1. The current practice of serving Process (summons, warrants and notices) through such cells established in each district to be abated immediately.
2. The process must be served through electronic means in so far as it relates to notices in civil and criminal matters.
3. The process, in other cases, be served through the jurisdiction police with Addl. SP of the concerned district being the Nodal Oﬃcer to coordinate with corresponding counterpart for presenting report on the said process. Further, digitally signed process may be issued accordingly.
Reasons : The expenses which are presently incurred in service of process are disproportionally higher if value of precious time invested or wasted is also added in ﬁnancial terms and therefore the above model needs to be immediately implemented and be carried on. Obstruction to service of process shall further lead to catastrophic judicial pendency as far a criminal matters are concerned and therefore every step should be ensured so as to prevent prejudice in securing presence of parties.
Section F : Court Premises ‐ Lawyers Chambers (including Canteens, Xerox Shops, Stationary Shops etc.), Administrative and Utility Blocks, Security and measures relating thereto
1. Sanitization be done in morning and evening without fail of the entire court premises.
2. Entry from diﬀerent gates be regulated for learned advocates and litigants while keeping entry for staﬀ and learned judicial oﬃcers separated for all safety purposes, and such entry be through temporary sanitized enclosures.
3. Sharing and Meetings as far as possible be avoided for any or all purposes inside the court premises.
4. Complete Embargo upon entry of litigants in courts till further orders., except as directed speciﬁcally by the hon'ble court, suo‐moto or an application by way of certiﬁcate issued by the counsel for the party seeking such entry of the said party.
5. Availability of Hand Sanitizer (with 60‐70% Isopropyl Alcohol as recommended) outside and inside court rooms and such other places as may be determined.
6. Use of Face Masks and other personal safety apparatus by security personnel and other staﬀ members as may be determined.
7. Prohibition of frisking and checking through handheld devices and only reliance be placed upon checking photo‐identity cards of the learned advocates and/or others in conjunction with x‐ray baggage machine scanning and metal door frame detector.
8. Installation of Devices, inter alia, Infrared Thermal Scan Devices at appropriate entry/exit points as may be determined.
9. Court Fee Room should remain closed, Post Oﬃce/Bank to function as usual, Canteen to function for provision of basic food items with no provision for seating and only take away orders be made available, in like manner other entities, however the private entities therein should work at 50% working strength and in compliance of social distancing norms.
10. Mediation Centres, if any should be closed forthwith, if work cannot be transacted through vide‐conferencing.
Reasons : The points are self‐explanatory.
Section G : Emergency Plan
1. Constitution of Team (not committee) of Medical/Health Care Experts to help chart an evacuation/disaster management plan, including and specially involving the Doctor(s), if available who are posted at the court complexes.
2. Nodal Oﬃcers should be designated by nomination from the Administration (whether or not from Disaster Management Committee at District Courts) and/or respective Bar Bodies, who shall assist and undertake evacuation measures in case of such virus detection, in coordination and supervision of Team as mentioned in point no. A above.
3. Nomination should consider courage, intelligence, quick response behavior and voluntary acceptance of responsibility and not otherwise.
4. Special Email Id per court complex be created where grievances, intels etc. can be sent to be attended by the concerned.
Reasons : Detailed study of entry‐exit and ﬂoor maps be undertaken and every judicial oﬃcer, staﬀ member and bar associations be instructed to learn the same, for evacuation in any suspected or actual situation of evacuation. Basic premise that all stakeholders are not medical experts and should only focus on prevention and safety.
Section H : Interventions of District Legal Services Authorities and State Legal Services Authority of Delhi
1. Facilitate the functioning of Court Managers.
2. Provide Video Conferencing Facility to learned Legal Aid Counsel(s) for the purpose of court hearings.
3. Undertake all works pertaining to Victim Compensation and Witness Protection Schemes through electronic means without mandatory in person presence.
4. All programmes, unless speciﬁed be suspended except those which are found to be in the realm of Actual Access to Justice. Reasons : The DSLSA/DSLAs must focus on its core responsibility of provision of technology based competent legal aid and cater to implementation of witness protection and victim compensation schemes.
Section I : Matters related to Ld. Judicial Oﬃcers, Ld. Advocates and staﬀ oﬃcials
1. The learned Judicial Oﬃcers should be compulsorily required to wear usual dress/uniform, however Advocates be allowed to appear without black coats w.e.f. 04 May, 2020 till further orders.
2. The learned Judicial Oﬃcers should not attend any meetings in person on administrative side and further, no collective lunch session be observed and all common rooms, lounges, gyms and other places exclusively earmarked should not be used.
3. Only speciﬁcally nominated staﬀ oﬃcials attached to each learned Judicial oﬃcer should access the chambers and not otherwise.
4. All communications to or by learned judicial oﬃcers should be done through oﬃcial email addresses as against paper‐pen mode.
Reasons : The points are self‐explanatory.
Section J : Appointment of Temporary Court Managers
1. Temporary Court Managers may be appointed on contractual basis by the High Court of Delhi pertaining to each district
2. The work of such court managers to coordinate and implement the directions and SOP as per the orders of the High Court of Delhi and being subordinate to the overall instructions of the concerned District & Sessions Judge, Delhi.
3. The Delhi State Legal Services Authority and District Legal Services Authorities may facilitate the same under their programme of 'Access to Justice'.
4. All administrative committees be regulated through the Court Managers under directions of the concerned learned District & Sessions Judge and all learned judicial oﬃcers should be put to do only judicial work.
Reasons : The burgeoning judicial pendency should get priority by investment of precious hours available to transact work in courts and all administrative functions be operationalized through temporary court managers and therefore judicial oﬃcers be relieved of petty administrative works. The role of DLSAs/DSLSA should be to ensure such transition and fund the programme by classifying it as a matter of 'Access to Justice'.
Section K : Role of Bar Councils and Bar Associations
1. District Court Based Helpline Numbers to be set‐up immediately for helping learned advocates in matters pertaining to func‐ tioning of the hon'ble courts during pandemic/suspended functioning.
2. Bar Association must ensure that no collective gathering ensues in the court complexes for any purpose and in any manner.
3. Bar Councils and Bar Associations must request the appropriate authorities or otherwise, to explore measures to assist the practicing advocates, in terms of transition to use technological equipment and also to be able to make requisite infrastructure available since digital revolution is the near future.
The author is an advocate at High Court of Delhi and District Courts-Delhi NCR. He primarily practices in the areas of Access to Justice, Access to Information (RTI), Child Rights, Education and Consumer Laws, Criminal Laws and engages in public policy matters. He can be reached at https://www.blackrobeslegal.com